Letters to Nature

Nature 419, 49-51 (5 September 2002) | doi:10.1038/nature00993; Received 24 May 2002; Accepted 18 July 2002

Spin vector alignment of Koronis family asteroids

Stephen M. Slivan

  1. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Rm 54-410, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

Correspondence to: Stephen M. Slivan Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to the author (e-mail: Email: slivan@mit.edu).

Studies of asteroid families—groups of asteroids that formed from the fragmentation of larger bodies—are of broad interest to solar system researchers because they can provide insights into collisional processes, as well as the interior structures, strengths, and compositions of asteroids. It is generally accepted that members of the Koronis family were created by collisional disruption of a homogeneous parent body1 and therefore share the same formation age and subsequent collisional history. The temporal variations in observed brightnesses of the Koronis family members (a consequence of their rotation) are, however, larger than expected2. Preferential alignment of spin vectors had been proposed2 as a possible explanation, but recent modelling3 predicted that family formation yields random spin vectors among the resulting fragments. Both hypotheses have been untested by observations. Here I show that the actual distribution of spin vectors among the largest members of the Koronis family falls within markedly nonrandom 'spin clusters'. Reconciling models of family formation and evolution with the unexpected alignments of spin obliquities and correlations with spin rates presents a new challenge in understanding asteroid collisional processes.